COLORADO SPRINGS — The power of friendship among veterans can go a long way, and it happens every Wednesday morning at the Black Eyed Pea Restaurant in Colorado Springs.
A large group veterans meet at the restaurant off of North Academy around 10:30 every Wednesday morning. It's a chance for them to listen to each other's stories in war and after, but it's also an opportunity to build community with other veterans.
The weekly meet-up started more than a decade ago when six veterans met at a different restaurant in town. Roger Fortin, an 89-year-old veteran, began organizing the gatherings back then and because of his efforts, they've grown into the large meet-ups that happen today.
"About 14 years ago, I came out here on a trip, and I called two of the guys that I was stationed with out there, and we met for coffee," said Fortin, who served in the U.S. Navy for six years and the
U.S. Air Force for 17 years. He also spent more than four years in Vietnam while serving, and used to be stationed at Cheyenne Mountain.
Fortin also calls and reminds veterans about the get-together.
"There was six of us 14 years ago, and now there's over 200 of us that are in my phone that I call quite frequently. A lot of them don't have many other outlets other than this, to meet people and other veterans," said Fortin.
Vets of all ages, all branches, and all ranks join every week. One of them is Bill Roche, a 96-year-old U.S. Army Veteran.
"I started out serving in the Army air corps back in World War II, and I enlisted in June in 1943, when I turned 18 years old," said Roche.
Roche mentioned he's met about 30-40 people and has been able to connect with others, both young and old, at the weekly gatherings.
"They all have different stories and things to tell, and you meet a lot of different people," said Roche. "When you get to by my age, you don't have much to do, so this is the event of the week to come here and talk to people."
For many, including Blake Lindner, a U.S. Air Force veteran, it's also the highlight of their week.
"I just love meeting with other veterans. It's like living history especially the World War II veterans, and Korea and Vietnam, and it just recharges my battery. I love coming here, and I look forward to it every Wednesday," said Lindner.
For Gloria Varner, the general manager of the restaurant, she's more than happy to host the group because she also comes from a military family. Her brother was a marine for 23 years, and her son was in the navy for five years.
"Its such an honor to have everybody here, because they're the ones that helped make this country the way it is today, " said Varner. "It's one big happy family. They all get hugs when they come in, they'll get hugs when they go out, and its really an honor to be with them every week."
Although they all have different stories to tell, it's the camaraderie and community that's brought all them together.
"That's what brings them together. They have the same common core of eperiences, even though its a different war, they can still communicate and they do," said Fortin. "We also recognize the gone, but never forgotten and those who used to be in the group that are no longer with us."
Sometimes Fortin also calls the veterans ahead of time and asks them to come in their uniforms.